TRIGGER WARNING HARASSMENT, MYSOGINY
This morning I was walking to work from the train station, idly daydreaming about the day ahead, not really thinking of anything but making my way to work as I do every morning. I had barely got a few metres when the first one happened - a guy moved really close to me at the kiosk near the station when I stopped to buy some breath mints. I moved away, because he was standing too close when there was plenty of room and no-one else about… and he moved closer to me again. I moved aside again, because I felt uncomfortable about him being so close when there was no need for him to. He moved close again. So this time, I walked around to the other side of the kiosk, making out to look at something over there… and he followed and stood really close, and when I turned and looked at him he grinned and licked his lips. This happened two more times before the guy behind the counter finished his phone call and served me and I could march away.
I was feeling really skeeved out, but tried to shake it off (as we women are constantly told to do) and was just starting to wander in my thoughts again, when a young guy standing in a doorway a few metres away from me, nudged the two people who were with him and pointed at me and the three of them laughed at me, and he said “Great hair, fatso.” loudly when I drew level with them. Bear in mind this was only maybe a minute or two after the guy back at the kiosk.
I had not got more than 5 doors down the street, when I heard a loud, slow clapping noise. I turned and an older man sitting at a café was clapping loudly and slowly, looking right at me, when he realised he had caught my attention, he raised his hands above his head and continued clapping, slow, deliberate claps. The other man sitting with him laughed and stared at me as well.
Finally, just outside my office building, less than a kilometre away from the train station and the first incident, I passed two men smoking on the street corner. One turned to the other and said clear enough to hear, “Jesus, would you look at that?” and indicated me. The other turned and looked and caught my eye, and had the audacity to look embarrassed, but said nothing.
So in less than a kilometres walk, I was street harassed FOUR times by four different men, for nothing more than being a woman (maybe a fat woman with coloured hair) passing them by.
As you can imagine, I was understandably REALLY angry. Angry that I could not walk to work, minding my own business, without being harassed by a man, not just once, but four times. This happens to me all the time, it happens to a lot of women all the time. I had a good rant on twitter and several women tweeted back to me about their experiences of street harassment and how it makes them angry.
Of course, there are always those who accuse women who are angry at men for a) street harassment and b) standing by and watching while their mates, male family members, colleagues and other acquaintances harass women on the street of “reverse sexism” or of “generalising about all men”, or “tarring all men with the same brush”. One woman, who had never bothered to speak to me on Twitter (or anywhere else) before, demanded I elaborate on what the incidents were and was offended when I said “I’d rather not relive the experiences right now thanks”. As if I owed her an explanation of my experiences to “prove” what I had been through. A nice thing to ask a complete stranger mere minutes after they had been through a horrible experience - no it’s not. I was actually hesitant to talk about it here, but I decided I wanted to illustrate just the kind of shit women deal with. But just because I’m angry and expressing that anger, doesn’t mean I’m not also traumatised by that experience.
Here’s the problem. When we get angry, as we rightly should, about street harassment, it is labelled man-hating/misandry. Yet what is street harassment of women if it’s not misogyny? Who is doing the hating of a gender here - me, a woman angry and upset at street harassment and calling for men to treat women as human beings, or men who harass women on the street? This is victim blaming at it’s most blatant - not only is it my fault for being harassed by strangers (because I’m a woman/fat/I have coloured hair), but if I get angry about this harassment, I’m told that I draw it to me, that I deserve that harassment, I “bring it on myself”.
I don’t hate men. I just don’t trust them. I CAN’T trust most of them, for my own safety and sanity. I can count on one hand the number of men in my life that I truly feel I can trust. I love those men dearly (you know who you are guys). This isn’t because I have some kind of man hating thing going on, it’s because time and time again, men have hurt me. From the day I was born I have been abused by men. My father, my brother, boys at school, teachers, family friends, employers, colleagues, male friends, partners and complete strangers on the street. All my life, over and over, I have been taught by experience that I must be wary of men, because when I am not, they hurt me. MOST women get this lesson in life. I’m not unique, it’s not just women who have suffered childhood abuse that learn this lesson, it’s the majority of women. Why wouldn’t we learn to distrust men? Why wouldn’t we be wary and intimidated?
Most of all, it’s time for men to stand up against this kind of thing. It’s time for men, not just to stop doing it, but to speak up when it happens in their presence AND to support women who speak about their experiences. Men - it’s time to collect your people. It’s time for you to “man up” and change a culture that is YOUR responsibility, not ours. It doesn’t make you less of a man to speak up and say “Hey, don’t speak to her like that.” It doesn’t diminish your manhood to support a woman (and believe a woman) when she says she is being abused by men. In fact, I believe it makes you a better person for doing it, regardless of your gender. One of the few men I trust earned that trust by speaking up in front of a full worksite of men when I was the only woman present and said firmly “Mate, I won’t have that kind of talk here.” in response to a dude in a suit who had just made a horrible comment about the capability of women in the workforce. Not only did he stand up in front of the perpetrator of that misogyny, but his own two adult sons were present, as well as about a dozen other men. So that message went to everyone there, not just the perpetrator and not just me.
It’s time for the men who consider themselves “good guys” to stand up and let both other men AND women hear them speaking out about things like street harassment, sexism and the safety of ALL women, and earn that title of good guy. Stop pretending it doesn’t happen and that it’s not your responsibility.